Rabbi Accused of Bribing Witness in Case Against Other Rabbi
A rabbi has been arrested and accused of witness tampering and bribery.
By Jonathan Dienst and Shimon Prokupecz
A Brooklyn rabbi is under arrest and facing charges of bribery and witness tampering for allegedly paying an individual to accuse another rabbi of sexual abuse.
Sources tell NBC New York that Samuel Kellner was arrested Tuesday night. The Brooklyn district attorney has scheduled a news conference but has declined comment ahead of the announcement.
Kellner is accused of paying a witness to say he was abused by Rabbi Baruch Lebovits, who was sentenced a year ago to 32 years in prison after he was convicted of child molestation.
Defense lawyers for Lebovits were expected in court Wednesday to try and argue their client should be released.
It was not immediately clear whether Kellner had an attorney.
I heard earlier this morning that Kellner was arrested. Kellner and another man were allegedly trying to extort a large sum of money from Lebovits' son, who is very wealthy. Lebovits, I'm told, is filing an appeal of his conviction today.
Update 3:22 PM CST – Here's the press release from the Brooklyn DA:
KINGS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY CHARLES J. HYNES ANNOUNCES THE INDICTMENT OF SAMUEL KELLNER, CHARGED WITH PAYING A WITNESS TO TESTIFY FALSELY IN A SEX CRIME CASE
CHARGES INCLUDE PAYING A CHILD WITNESS TO TESTIFY FALSELY AND ATTEMPTING TO EXTORT MONEY FROM A DEFENDANT TO GET HIS CASE DROPPED
Brooklyn, April 13, 2011 – Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced the indictment of Samuel Kellner, 49, charged with paying a child to testify falsely that Borough Park rabbi, Baruch Lebovits, had sexually abused him. Kellner is also charged with attempting to extort $400,000 from the Lebovits family to prevent other children from accusing the rabbi and to stop those who had come forward from pursuing their cases.
The indictment charges that, in 2008, after Kellner learned Lebovits had been accused of sexually molesting a child, Kellner paid a second child $10,000 to falsely claim Lebovits also abused him. Both children testified before a Kings County Grand Jury which ultimately charged Lebovits with both misdemeanor and felony sex abuse counts, according to the indictment against Kellner. Kellner next sent emissaries to the Lebovits family demanding $400,000, in exchange for which, Kellner would prevent those witnesses from testifying at trial and prevent a third “victim” from coming forward, according to the indictment. The Lebovits family did not comply with the demand, and in November 2008, a third “victim” did come forward, the indictment charges. Kellner later threatened to bring a fourth “victim” to testify, according to the indictment.
In March 2010 Lebovits was convicted of eight counts of Criminal Sexual Act in the Third Degree, with the testimony of the third witness. The second witness did not testify at the trial. Lebovits was sentenced to 10-and-two-thirds to 32 years in prison.
Kellner is charged with Five Counts of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Two Counts of Perjury in the First Degree, One Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree and Two Counts of Criminal Solicitation in the Fourth Degree. If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.
The case is being prosecuted by Counsel to the Rackets Division Nicholas J. Batsidis. Michael Vecchione is Chief of the Rackets Division.
Update 3:24 PM CST – A source tells me that Rabbi Samuel Kellner is a brother-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Weiser, the man behind the VosIzNeias ban.
Update 3:56 PM CST – Here is the New York Daily News report [Hat Tip: Burich]:
Prosecutors defend rabbi's child-molestation conviction despite charging making false accusations
BY Oren Yaniv • NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Prosecutors stood by a Brooklyn rabbi's child-molestation conviction Wednesday, even as they charged a Hasidic man with shaking down his family and bribing someone to make false accusations.
Baruch Lebovits, 60, received a sentence of 10 2/3 to 32 years in prison a year ago, based on the testimony of a 22-year-old man who said the rabbi sexually abused when he was 16.
The trial and stiff penalty sent shockwaves through Borough Park's tight-knit Jewish community.
But Samuel Kellner, 49, who brought the victim to prosecutors' attention, was charged with paying another man $10,000 to accuse Lebovits of abuse.
Kellner was also charged with trying to blackmail Lebovits' family out of $400,000 to make the cases disappear.
"Child abuse has to be prosecuted vigorously, but we also have to be careful about false complaints," said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, defending a decision to prosecute the case.
An investigation into Lebovits - a wealthy man who owned a travel agency - began when Kellner's close relative accused the rabbi of inappropriate touching, sources said.
Lebovits was hit with a misdemeanor, but when a second accuser - the one paid by Kellner - came forward, the rabbi was slapped with felony counts, prosecutors said.
The charges relating to Kellner's relative were eventually dismissed, and the second accuser later refused to testify at trial.
Meanwhile, representatives for Kellner told the Lebovits family to pay up or another victim would come forward, prosecutors said.
When the family refused, a third accuser stepped forward and gave testimony in March 2010 that led to Lebovits' conviction.
A source told the Daily News that third accuser was also tainted, having been offered $50,000 to take the stand.
"We believe everything was premeditated all along. All they wanted was the money," said a relative of Lebovits who asked not to be named. "The DA has him on recordings."
An appellate division panel will decide later Wednesday whether to release Lebovits on bail pending his appeal.
Prosecutors oppose any release, arguing the victim who testified at trial was truthful.
The rabbi is represented on appeal by high-power attorney Alan Dershowitz and his original defense lawyer Arthur Aidala.
"We are satisfied and relieved by the DA's actions to follow up on the leads we gave him," Aidala said. "It goes a long way to prove our theory that all these charges are false."
Kellner was arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court for 10 counts of grand larceny, perjury and conspiracy that can land him behind bars for up to 21 years.
He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer Israel Fried described him as an advocate of sexual-abuse victims, which made him a lightening rod in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood.
"It seems reasonable that people in the community who are aware of him bringing people to justice will have a vendetta against my client," he said.
With Simone Weichselbaum
Update 4:35 PM CST – VIN is reporting Lebovits was released on $250,000 bail.